The Bible in Its Traditions

James 3:13–18

Nes V S

13  Is there anyone wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good conduct [that] his works [are] in meekness of wisdom.

13  Who is wise and understanding among you? let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom.

13  Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

Byz Nes S

14  But if you have bitter jealousy and strife in your heart, do not boast and lie against the truth.

14  But if you hold a bitter zeal, and if there is contention in your hearts, then do not boast and do not be liars against the truth.

14  But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

Byz Nes S TR

15  This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.

15  For this is not wisdom, descending from above, but rather it is earthly, beastly, and diabolical.

Byz Nes

16  For where jealousy and strife [exist], there unrest and every evil deed [are].

16  For wherever envy and contention is, there too is inconstancy and every depraved work.

16  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

16 instability Jas 1:8; 3:6
Byz Nes S TR

17  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

17  But within the wisdom that is from above, certainly, chastity is first, and next peacefulness, meekness, openness, consenting to what is good, a plenitude of mercy and good fruits, not judging, without falseness.

Byz S
Nes TR

18  Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those making peace.

18  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace.

18  And so the fruit of justice is sown in peace by those who make peace.


Ancient Texts

15b demonic Reference to Supernatural Powers See Ancient Texts 2:19b

Biblical Intertextuality

1:26,3:14 heart Anthroplogy In biblical anthropology, the heart (kardia) is the source of a person's inner life: his thinking, feeling, and will (cf. Gen 6:5; Ex 4:21; Mt 6:21; Jas 3:14; 4:8; 5:5; 5:8).



13b conduct Behavior or Way of Life The Greek anastrophê refers to behavior but also more broadly to a way of life. Eph 4:22 admonishes the Christian to put away his former way of life (anastrophê), marked by corruption and deceit. Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 9.64 reports that Epicurus greatly admired Pyrrho's way of life. 

13b works Completed Actions: Accomplisments The noun ergon the keyword for James (Vocabulary 1:4a); it means action or deed, but can also mean the result of actions. Erga may be translated as "accomplishments" here to bring out the sense of a completed action: ta erga has the collective sense of actions completed during a person's lifetime that reveal that a person acts with wisdom.

Literary Devices

13b gentleness Echo: Gentleness in James James uses the same word (prautês) in Jas 1:21: "with gentleness be receptive to the implanted word." See Biblical Intertextuality 1:21b.


14b do not boast Thinking Oneself Better Than Others The word katakauchaomai has the sense of boasting at the expense of another (cf.  Rom 11:18a: "boast against the branches") James' implicit point is that those who are claiming to be wise should not consider themselves better than others who supposedly lack wisdom. By retaining jealousy and a spirit of rivalry they reveal themselves to be not truly wise and thus lying against the truth. For true wisdom is accompanied by gentleness and humility (Jas 3:13).

Quite possibly James is still addressing those who consider themselves to be wise teachers (Jas 3:1) and thus are "boasting against" rival teachers or against community members whom they regard  as less wise than they. Cf. Gregory the Great Past. 3.22. See also Christian Tradition 3:17c.

Literary Devices

14b do not boast and lie against the truth Implicit Challenge to Those Claiming to Be Wise With his rhetorical question, "Who is wise and understanding among you?" James implictly challenges those claiming to be wise (likely the same people as those desiring to be teachers in Jas 3:1) to prove that they truly have wisdom. The truly wise one can demonstrate his wisdom through his gentle conduct (Jas 3:2); the ones who implicitly claim to be wise yet still act with jealousy and rivalry show that they are in fact lying—their actions demonstrate that they lack wisdom.



13–17 Who is wise and knowing among you? Papal Application to Bishops Pope Clement XIII in his 1761 encyclical In Dominico Agro quotes Jas 3:14-17 (at Clement XIII Dom. ag. no. 7) to warn his fellow bishops that teachers of Catholic doctrine must not only be accomplished in theology, but must also be humble and motivated by love. He condemns the diversity of teachings in the Church, and recommends that all teaching should be based on the Council of Trent's Roman Catechism in order to preserve unity.

  • Clement XIII Dom. ag. no. 6: Clement insists that "it is the bishop's duty to watch carefully that nobody breaks the bond of unity and creates schisms by proudly acting in his own interests."


Literary Devices

15a wisdom coming down from above Echo James alludes to his earlier teaching: "every good thing given, every perfect gift, is from above" (Jas 1:17). There James contrasts worldly desire (epithumia) with the purity of God's gifts; here James specifies that wisdom (cf. Jas 1:5) is one of those gifts.

Textual Criticism

17e not judging, without deceit : V | Latin mss: judging without deceit V reads non iudicans sine simulatione, (i.e., two characteristics: not judging, without hypocrisy), but some manuscripts and many Latin writers (e.g., Bede Ep. cath.; Gloss. Ord., Aquinas ST 2-2.45.6) omit non and read iudicans sine simulatione  (i.e., one characteristic: "judging without hypocrisy").

Literary Devices

17 Catalogue of Virtues

  • Ancient Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian literature all make frequent use of catalogues or lists of virtues and vices which reflect contemporary ethical standards. It is likely that Stoic philosophers first developed this literary device, building on Plato's identification of four central virtues.
  • The NT frequently employs virtues lists (e.g., Gal 5:22-23; Eph 4:2-3; 1Tm 3:2-4). 

17a wisdom from above Explication of a Previous Reference At Jas 3:13, James references the "gentleness of wisdom": here he describes that gentleness in extenso.

18 Maxim James concludes this section (Jas 3:13-18) with a maxim (Greek: gnômê; Latin: sententia), a technique he uses elsewhere to conclude certain trains of thought (Jas 1:12; 2:13; 2:26; 3:12b; 4:17).


Christian Tradition

18 among those who make peace The Peacefulness of the Teacher

  • Erasmus Iac. Par.: The Christian teacher will not argue "with those who appear too obstinate to be likely to obey the teachings of the gospel. It is better to leave them to their own stubborness if there is no hope that they will change their minds and repent" (Bateman 1993, 160; Bateman 1997, 146).


Biblical Intertextuality

13a wise and knowing Wisdom Connected with God’s Law The combination of sophos and epistêmôn is found in Deuteronomy: the terms characterize the leaders of the people (Dt 1:13-15), but also the people themselves to the extent that they follow the commandments of the Law (Dt 4:6; cf. Sir 10:28 [G-10:25] on the combination and Sir 19:23-27 [G-19:20-24] on the connection of Law and wisdom). James also closely connects God's wisdom and the Law (Jas 1:18-25). See also Vocabulary 3:15; Ancient Texts 3:13a; Biblical Intertextuality 3:13a; Christian Tradition 3:13a.

Suggestions for Reading

15b earthly, unspiritual, demonic James’ References to Demonic Powers James' reference to earthly wisdom as "demonic" (daimoniôdês) is connected with his reference in Jas 2:19 to demons (daimonia), and in Jas 4:7 to the devil (diabolos).

Although many commentators identify Gehenna (see Jas 3:6d) as the dwelling place of demons and the devil, it is not clear that this view was current in the first century. James certainly understands demons, demonic wisdom, and the devil as powers opposed to God, but the realm of evil for James is the world (cf. Jas 1:27; 4:4; cf. "earthly, unspiritual, demonic wisdom" in this passage). James most likely understands Gehenna primarily as the realm of eschatological punishment. James may assume that the devil is the chief demon; he certainly understands him as a tempter to evil  (see Jas 4:7: "resist the devil": i.e., resist his temptations to do evil). See also Biblical Intertextuality 4:7b and Peritestamental Literature 4:7b


Literary Devices

16 instability Echo: Inner and Outer Instability James' term "instability" (akatastasia) echoes his use of the cognate akatastatos in Jas 1:8 (the double-minded man is unstable in all of his ways) and Jas 3:8b (the tongue is an unstable [according to NES the original reading] evil). One again sees James' connection between division and instability within the community, and instability and division within the human heart. See below Christian Tradition 3:16.


Ancient Texts

16 base deed Controlled by Passions The adjective phaulos is the Stoic term for the ordinary person who lacks virtues, in contrast to the excellent (spoudaios) wise person (e.g., Stob. Anth. 2.99.3-8). Aristotle Rhet. 2.11.1 also describes the person who experiences the negative type of jealousy (phthonos) as phaulos. James, like the Greek tradition, has in mind a person who is dominated by his passions for base physical pleasures (epithumia; Jas 1:14-15; hêdonai; Jas 4:1-3). See below Biblical Intertextuality 3:16.

16 instability Inner and Outer Instability The Greek akatastasia can refer to both to an inner instability (Ancient Texts 1:8) and to social disturbances and disorder.

See below Literary Devices 3:16.


Literary Devices

17b first of all pure Language of Ritual Purity James again applies language originally used for ritual purity and applies it in an ethical sense: see Jas 1:18; 1:27; 3:6a; 4:8. Here his use of hagnos echoes his use of the cognate verb hagnizô in Jas 4:8c.

See further Ancient Texts 3:17b and Biblical Intertextuality 3:17b.


1:5,3:13,15,17 wisdom Ambiguity of “Wisdom”

"Wisdom from above"

When James uses the word "wisdom" (sophia) in an unqualified sense (Jas 1:5; 3:13), he understands it as the "wisdom from above" (Jas 3:15a; 3:17a), that is, a good gift from God (cf. Jas 1:17). Cf. Jewish Tradition 1:5a; Christian Tradition 1:5b.

Clever but Evil

By contrast, Jas 3:15b speaks of a "wisdom" that is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. One may interpret this passage in two ways.

  • James speaks ironically: the earthly wisdom is not a true wisdom, but only a so-called "wisdom."
  • In keeping with other attested uses of the word, James may understand the earthly wisdom as a lesser kind of wisdom, one that is knowledgeable and crafty in its own realm, but morally bad (cf. 1Cor 3:19:  "wisdom of the world";  Plato Resp. 7 [519a] refers to "bad (ponêros) men who are nevertheless clever." See further Ancient Texts 1:5a.  

Textual Criticism

17c persuadable Plus in Some Witnesses of V After "persuadable" (suadibilis) some Latin witnesses add bonis consentiens ("agreeing with the good" or "agreeing with good people") a reading that is witnessed in Bede Ep. cath., Gloss. Ord., Aquinas ST 2-2.45.6 ad. 3 and C. See below Vocabulary 3:17c and Christian Tradition 3:17c.


14a rivalry Or "selfish ambition"? The noun eritheia comes from the verb eritheuô ("to spin wool"), which gained the idiomatic meaning of intriguing for office. It has the sense of either:

  • personal ambition and selfishness
  • or rivalry.

Coupled with "bitter jealousy," the latter sense is more likely (cf. V's contentiones). See also Ancient Texts 3:14a and Biblical Intertextuality 3:14a.

15b earthly Connotation: As Opposed to Heavenly  The primary meaning of the Greek epigeios is "earthly" as opposed to "heavenly" (1Cor 15:40). It thus has the sense of temporary existence (cf. 2Cor 5:1; see also Plato Rep. 8 [546a]). The focus is on physical, temporary reality. See also Biblical Intertextuality 3:15b.

15b demonic Of the Demons?

Like the Demons or "from the Demons"?

The adjective damoniôdês could mean that the wisdom is "demon-like" or it could mean that the "wisdom" is directly inspired by demons. This latter sense is supported by S's translation: "from (mn) the demons." So it is possible that James is thinking of supernatural beings who influence one's thoughts and actions in this world.

This-worldly Connotations?

On the other hand, the adjective "demonic" does not necessarily connote the sense of supernatural beings who reside in a separate realm of pure evil.

  • James' pairing of damoniôdês with "earthly," and "non-spiritual" (i.e., natural, physical) may show that he thinks of a this-worldly reality.
  • The Hellenistic conception of demons saw them as intermediary forces who were very much active in worldly events.
  • In Hellenistic thought, the evil of demons is not a transcendent evil, but one closely tied to an unhealthy attachment to the passions and vices of this world. See also Ancient Texts 2:19b.

17e not hypocritical Genuine or Impartial?

  • The Greek anupokritês has the sense of "sincere" or "genuine" (e.g., "sincere faith" 1Tm 1:5). The word literally means "non-hypocritical"—one who does not "play a part," but acts sincerely. The tradition takes it in this sense: V translates sine simulatione ("without deception").  
  • Ws 5:18, however, understands the word in the sense of "impartial," referring to the Lord's impartial judgment.  This is how S takes it, translating with the same phrase used in Jas 2:1: "Do not show partiality" (la b’p’ nsb’; cf. Hebrew ns’ pnym). This latter meaning fits well with James' emphasis on the sin of making preferential distinctions (e.g., Jas 2:1). See below Christian Tradition 3:17.


13b gentleness of wisdom What Type of Genitive? The genitive may be construed in different ways:

  • of source: the gentleness that comes from wisdom;
  • of description: the gentleness that is wise, using the genitive noun as an adjective in a Semitic fashion;
  • subjective genitive: the gentleness that belongs to wisdom, gentleness is a characteristic of wisdom.

James’ meaning is most likely the last one, since this phrase serves to define the meaning of “wise” and thus would focus on describing its characteristics.

Literary Devices

13–18 Frequent use of parallelism In his teaching on the distinction between the two types of wisdom (one from "above, one from "below"), James often parallels two elements:

Jas 14a: "bitter jealousy and rivalry";

Jas 14b: "do not boast and lie against the truth";

Jas 16a: "jealousy and rivalry";

Jas 16a: "instability and every low-minded practice";

Jas 17d: "full of mercy and good fruits."

13b works Repeated Theme: Verbal Claims Must Be Substantiated with Actions


James’ use of the term “works” (G = erga; singular ergon) echoes his earlier use of the term.

  • Jas 1:25: Exhortation to be an active doer (lit.: “doer of a work”) and not merely a hearer of the word. 
  • Jas 2:14–26: An extended instruction on the relationship between faith and actions (erga), concluding that “faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:26). 

Works Substantiate Faith

  • Jas 2:18: “I will show (deiknumi) you my faith by my works” (ek tôn ergôn). Verbal expression of faith is meaningless if not substantiated by actions. 
  • Jas 3:13b: “Let him show (deiknumi) his works by a good life (ek tês anastrophês). The claim to be wise is meaningless if not sustained by a good life (conduct) whose actions are done humbly and gently.”

See also →Ergon ("Work"): Its Philology, Biblical Use and Reception and →James: Erga ("Works") and Cognates in James.

14a bitter jealousy Echo "Bitter" (pikros) is also used at Jas 3:11 for "bitter" water. James verbally links internal bitterness (jealousy) with a bitter external expression (bitter water symbolizing immoral speech in 3:11).

17f peaceful …by those who make peace: Explication of an Earlier Reference The peaceful characteristic of the wisdom from above (Jas 3:17c)  is manifested in the peace-making activity of the Christian (Jas 3:18). This peacefulness directly contrasts with the conflict engendered by the wisdom from below (Jas 3:16). See further Christian Tradition 3:17.

17f [full of] good fruits ...fruit of righteousness is sown: Agricultural Imagery in James James frequently employs agricultural imagery: see Jas 1:11; 3:12; 5:7b; 5:18. Karpos ("fruit," "harvest") is an especially important term for James (Jas 3:17; 3:18; 5:7; 5:18). 

Inner Dispositions Lead to Outward Actions

  • James uses agricultural imagery (sown seeds bearing fruit) to illustrate his conviction that certain inner dispositions lead naturally to certain outward results in action.  These outward actions are characterized by peaceful relationships with others in the community.
  • This connection again demonstrates James' consistent emphasis on practical action: an inner possession of God's wisdom leads to practical actions (fruits) such as aiding widows and orphans and caring for those who lack the necessities of daily life. The agricultural image expresses James' conviction that good actions are a natural outgrowth of the right relationship with God: true faith produces the fruit of good actions (Jas 2:14-26); true religion is expressed in caring for widows and orphans (Jas 1:26-27).


Ancient Texts

14a jealousy Positive and Negative Assessments of zêlos

A Noble Characteristic

The word zêlos, translated here as “jealous,” has a positive sense for Aristotle.  Aristotle Rhet. 2.11.1 [1388a] distinguishes between zêlos and phthonos. One who is zêlos when he sees that another possesses a valued good, and he thus is motivated to obtain the good for himself, without envy for the other. He who is pthonos, on the other hand, is envious and wishes to deprive the other of what good he has (Freese 1926, 243).

A Negative Passion 

  • Both zêlos and phthonos are negative for the Stoics. Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.111 reports that both are considered passions under the category of "grief" (lupê): pthonos is "grief at another's prosperity" (ep' allotriois agathois), while zêlos is "grief at the possession by another of that which one desires (epithumei) for oneself" (Hicks 1925, 216).

  • Plutarch Frat. amor. 14 tends to use pthonos and zêlos interchangeably; both are vices.
  • Plutarch Tranq. an. 10 [Mor. 470] advises that zêlos is a great threat to tranquility of mind, as one is constantly comparing oneself to those who have a higher station in life (Helmbold 1939, 196-203).

See also Biblical Intertextuality 3:14a and Christian Tradition 3:14a.

15b unspiritual Merely Natural Life Force psuchikos is the adjectival form of psuchê, often translated as "soul." In ancient Greek thought, psuchê does not denote a transcendent spiritual reality, but rather the natural "life force" that animates a physical body; thus for Aristotle (e.g., Aristotle De an. 2) plants and animals as well has humans have souls; humans are distinguished by their possession of a rational soul. In this sense, psuchikos refers to the natural life force of this world (Biblical Intertextuality 3:15b; Christian Tradition 3:15b).

17b first of all pure Cultic Purity Language The word "pure" (hagnos) was originally taken from the realm of ritual purity, but was also applied to the moral realm.

  • IG 14.204: the goddesses Demeter and Persephone.
  • Homer, Od. 21.259: "the feast of the god—a holy (hagnê)  feast" (Murray 1945, 2:328).
  • Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.119: The Stoics say that the wise men keep themselves pure (hagnos) by offering sacrifices to the gods (Hicks 1925, 225).
  • Plato Leg. 6 [759C] "clean from murder and all such offenses against religion" (Bury 1926, 1:419)

See also Ancient Cultures 1:18b; Ancient Texts 1:27Literary Devices 3:6cLiterary Devices 4:8bc.

17c reasonable A Virtue Complementary to Justice Aristotle Nic. Eth. 5.10 [1137b] notes that being reasonable (epieikês) is closely related to being just (dikaion); however, reasonableness is superior because it strives to apply the law according to concrete circumstances, not indiscriminately.

See also Vocabulary 3:17c; Biblical Intertextuality 3:17c; Christian Tradition 3:17c.

Biblical Intertextuality

13a who is wise Paul on Earthly and Divine Wisdom Like James, Paul contrasts divine wisdom with the wisdom of this world (1Cor 1:20-25).

14a jealousy and rivalry Vices Leading to Divisions in Paul's Churches

Zêlos as a Positive Emotion

In the NT, zêlos can have a positive sense as a strong emotion, thus Paul: “I testify with regard to them that they have zeal for God” (Rom 10:2). 

Jealousy and Rivalry as Vices

In general, however, jealousy (zêlos) and rivalry (eritheia) appear together in lists of vices:

  • 2Cor 12:20: “rivalry (eris), jealousy (zêlos), fury, selfishness (eritheiai, could also be translated as “rivalries”), slander (katalalia; verbal form used in Jas 4:11), gossip, conceit, and disorder” (akatastasiai; used in Jas 3:16). 
  • Gal 5:19–20: Paul’s list of vices here also includes jealousy and rivalry. 

Characteristics of a “Fleshly” Worldview

For Paul, the “flesh” opposes the realm of the Spirit (Gal 5:17; cf. 1Cor 1:17–30; 1Cor 3:18–20; Gal 5:18–22; see also Jesus’ remarks at Lk 10:21). Paul’s concept corresponds to James’ notion of “the world” (Jas 1:27; 4:4) and its wisdom (Jas 3:15). The “flesh” is focused on the satisfaction of selfish desires and pleasures and thus subject to jealousy and rivalry: 

  • 1Cor 3:3: Paul associates zêlos with a worldview that is still “fleshly” (sarkikos). 
  • Gal 5:19–20: Jealousy and rivalry are “works of the flesh.” 

Source of Division

In Paul’s passages, jealousy and rivalry characterize the factions that have divided his churches. James has similar concerns, as he strongly condemns division in the congregation (Jas 2:1–12). See also Ancient Texts 3:14a and Christian Tradition 3:14a

15b earthly Pauline Parallel Use of the Word Paul’s sense of the word “earthly” (Vocabulary 3:15b) in Philippians closely parallels that of James. Speaking of certain people who are “enemies of the cross of Christ,” Paul describes them thus:

  • “their God is their stomach; their glory is in their ‘shame.’ Their minds are occupied with earthly things” (epigeia; Phil 3:19). 

This worldly mindset is focused on satisfying the passions and thus does not have room for spiritual concerns.

15b unspiritual Natural Life Apart from God’s Spirit James teaches that unspiritual (psuchikos) “wisdom” lacks the supernatural gift of God’s wisdom and is thus dominated by worldly desires.

In Paul’s thought, the Spirit plays essentially the same role that God’s wisdom plays in James. Paul indicates that the “natural” (psuchikos) person cannot understand “what pertains to the Spirit of God” since spiritual knowledge “is judged spiritually” (1Cor 2:14).  This contrast applies also in the eschatological age: there the “natural body” (sôma psuchikon; note V’s translation: corpus animale) becomes the “spiritual body” (sôma pneumatikon) of the resurrection. 

Similarly, Jude 18–19 equates those who live according to the “desires (epithumiai; cf. Jas 1:14–15) of their godless deeds” with those who “live on the natural plane (psuchikoi), devoid of the Spirit” (pneuma).

James’ worldview is in line with that of Paul and Jude: the person who lacks God’s wisdom (the Spirit in Paul and Jude) is enslaved by negative passions. 

16 instability and every base deed Vices in NT Context Instability (akatastasia) is generally used in the NT to denote social disorder and conflict:

  • Lk 21:9: “wars and insurrections” (akatastasiai)
  • 1Cor 14:33, referring to disorder (akatastasia) in community worship: “he is not the God of disorder but of peace.”
  • 2Cor 12:20: akatastasiai is one of many vices that engender discord.

“Base” (phaulos) is used to describe wickedness in general (cf. Jn 3:20 and Rom 9:11), as opposed to its more specific usage in Hellenistic thought (Ancient Texts 3:16). 

17c reasonable Desired Characteristic of a Bishop The Pastoral epistles include this trait as one of the desired characteristics of an episkopos (1Tm 3:3; cf. Tt 3:2). See also Vocabulary 3:17c; Ancient Texts 3:17c; Christian Tradition 3:17c.

17d full of mercy Development of Jesus’ Teaching For James, mercy goes beyond strict legalism to show compassion and understanding (Jas 2:13: “mercy triumphs over judgment”). This directly reflects Jesus’ teaching (Mt 5:7; 6:12–15). See also Biblical Intertextuality 2:13b and Christian Tradition 3:17.

17d good fruits Comparison with Paul’s Fruits of the Spirit According to Paul, these are the fruits of the Spirit:

  • love, joy (chara), peace (eirênê), patience (makrothumia), kindness, generosity, faithfulness (pistis), gentleness (prautês), and self-control (Gal 5:22–23). 

James notes many of the same virtues:

18 those who make peace Verbal Connection with Evangelical Traditions James’ phrase (poiein eirênên) echos Jesus’ blessing, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (eirênopoioi; Mt 5:9). 

18 fruit of righteousness is sown in peace Traditional Connection between Peace and Righteousness The Epistle to Hebrews also links righteousness and peace.

  • Heb 12:11 : Discipline (paideia) "brings the peaceful fruit (karpon eirênikon) of righteousness (dikaiosunês) to those who are trained by it."

For both James and Hebrews, peace is not possible without righteousness, being aligned with the standards of God (Vocabulary 2:21a).


Christian Tradition

13a wise and knowing Estius Comm. ep. cath. distinguishes between the two terms, seeing a reference to two things necessary for the Christian teacher:

  • sapientia: knowledge of things pertaining to religion;
  • scientia: knowledge of human affairs.

Estius finds this distinction in Paul’s list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: “expression of wisdom” and “expression of knowledge” (1Cor 12:8; 4303). See also Vocabulary 3:13a.

14a rivalry Source of Rivalry in Envy and Anger

  • Aquinas ST 2-2.53.5 ad. 2 teaches that envy (invidia) and anger (ira) are the source (principium) of rivalry (contentio; English Dominicans 1947, 3:1412).
  • Aquinas ST 2-2.38.1 further teaches that contentio is a mortal sin when one contends against the truth and when it "exceeds the demands of the persons and matter in dispute" (English Dominicans 1947, 3:1348).

15b unspiritual Differing Interpretations

"Unspiritual" in a Gnostic Context

In the anthropology of Valentinian Gnosticism, humanity is divided into three types (see e.g., Irenaeus Haer. 1.7.5)

  • the hulikoi : those completely immersed in the world of the senses
  • the psuchikoi (those in the intermediate, "natural" state)
  • the pneumatikoi (the "spiritual") who are associated with the gnostic elect.

Cf. also Hippolytus Haer. 5.9 [5:3], esp. 5.9.44 (ANF 5:52-56): sarkikos, psuchikoi, pneumatikoi.

James' worldview, in contrast tends to divide into only two options: those who follow the wisdom of the world, and those who humbly accept the wisdom of God. James of course differs in other ways from Gnostic anthropology. 

Bede on Pauline Anthropology

 Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. explains that unspiritual (Latin: animalis) "is not derived from [the word] animal but from anima [soul, the life-giving principle]; Bede points out a similar derivation in Greek (psuchikos from psuchê). For Paul, Bede continues, the word psuchikos refers to "the person who, having no spiritual grace, knows only how to think about or do those things which are naturally implanted in the sense of the flesh and soul." This is why a contentious and proud wisdom is called "earthly, animal, and diabolical" (Hurst 1985, 44-45; Hurst 1983, 209). See also Ancient Texts 3:15b; Biblical Intertextuality 3:15b.

A Traditional Triad  of the Sources of Evil

James description of the wisdom may be the source of a traditional identification of the three sources of evil, or temptation to evil, rendered traditionally in English as "the world, the flesh, and the devil." For example:

  • Abelard Exp. Orat. Dom. "There are three things that tempt us: the flesh, the world, and the devil" (Tria autem sunt quae nos tentant, caro, mundus, diabolus; PL 178: 61).
  • Conc. Trid. Just. 13 (DzH 1541) refers to the battle against the flesh, the world, and the devil (caro, mundus, diabolus).
  • BCP: The Litany of the  Book of Common Prayer prays for the Lord's deliverance "from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil" (149).

Other Interpretations

  • Gloss. Ord.(V) the interlinear gloss reads, "Unspiritual (non spiritualis), rather in the manner of animals seeking the things of the senses" (sensiblia; 1290).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. "It is a sensual (animalis) wisdom and for this reason looks more to those things which are conducive to this life on earth than to eternal life" (Bateman 1993, 159; Bateman 1997, 210).
  • Erasmus Annot. Ep. Iac. ad loc. comments that James sometimes calls human emotion (affectum humanum) "unspiritual" in order to contrast it with spirit (ut opponatur spiritui; van Poll-van de Lisdonk 2014, 410).

16 instability Inner or Outer Instability?

Inner Instability

Patristic and medieval tradition understood James' reference as one of internal disorder or instability:

  • Bede Ep. cath. "the instability of his mind (inconstantia mentis) wavering this way and that" (Hurst 1985, 45; Hurst 1983, 209). Cf. V's translation: inconstantia.
  • Aquinas ST 2-2.53.5 teaches that instability (inconstantia) is one of the vices opposed to the cardinal virute of prudence (prudentia). Instability "denotes withdrawl from a definite good purpose." A person knows that something is good, but withdraws from it due to a strong attraction to some pleasure. But this attraction is not acted upon "except through a defect of reason (per defectum rationis)." Since one's reason is not strong enough to resist the sensual attraction, he is unstable or inconstant.  Specifically, "envy and anger cause inconstancy by drawing away the reason to something else" (→ ST 2-2.53.6 ad 1). Why then, → ST 2-2.53.6 asks, did Gregory the Great [→ Moral. 31.88] classify instability as a subcategory under lust (luxuria)? Although instability is caused by lack of reason,  ultimately it derives from lust, since "lust causes inconstancy by destroying the judgment of reason entirely" (English Dominicans 1947, 3:1412-13).

External Instability


Ancient Texts

14a rivalry A Cause of Political Dissension Aristotle Pol. 5.2 [1302b] lists eritheia as one of the causes of civil conflict; describing it as dishonest intriguing for political office [1303a]. See further Vocabulary 3:14a and Biblical Intertextuality 3:14a.


Comparison of Versions

15b earthly, unspiritual, demonic An Explanatory Expansion A literal translation of S-Jas 3:15b is “earthly, from the thoughts (ḥwšb’) of the soul (npš’), and from demons.” 

  • Corresponding to the Hebrew npš and Greek psuchê, npš’ is the animating principle of those who are “natural” and “worldly,” not “spiritual.”
  • “From demons” renders the G adjective daimoniôdês.

See also Vocabulary 3:15b; Ancient Texts 3:15b ; Biblical Intertextuality 3:15b 

Christian Tradition

13–18 Who is wise and knowing Application to Teachers The tradition regularly connects Jas 3:13-18 with James' reference to teachers in Jas 3:1: the admonitions in this section are aimed at teachers.


  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc.: having criticized the faults of the tongues of wicked teachers in Jas 3:1-12, James turns now to a comparison of good and bad teachers. The good teacher has a meek heart and well-controlled tongue, as opposed to wicked teachers who love to boast, are eager for conflict, and who are envious of other teachers (Hurst 1985, 43; Hurst 1983, 208). Cf. the similar interpretation in the Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. (cols. 1287-88).

Erasmus: Two Types of Teachers

Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. distinguishes sharply between those teachers guided by the wisdom from above and those guided by the wisdom from below (Bateman 1993, 158-59; Bateman 1997, 144-46).  Erasmus' critiques of corrupt teachers doubtless have both the clergy and the scholastic professors of contemporary Europe in mind.

Teachers Led by the Wisdom from Below
  • “A contentious and stubborn style of teaching (contentiosa pertinaxque doctrina)” that “generates nothing but faction and discord”;
  • they teach with “syllogistical subtleties (in argutiis syllogismorum) and “rhetorical trappings” and “throw up a smoke-screen of intricate questions”;
  • they “speak to win the favour of princes”;
  • they have “a heart corrupted by contentions or by envy and the stubborn desire to win”;
  • they are motivated by “a desire for glory” and “a passion for money.”
Teachers Led by the Wisdom from Above
  • These teachers follow the “evangelical philosophy” (philosophia evangelica);
  • they are “calm-minded and unaffected by the tumult of the passions”;
  • this teacher testifies “to the kind of person he is by the godliness and integrity of his character (piis et integris moribus) rather than by his words”;
  • they teach “in sincerity of life and gentleness of character” (in synceritate vitae, in lenitate morum) having no other object in mind than the salvation of their hearers.


15b worldy, unspiritual, demonic Pneumatology  Aquinas explains how James can refer to wisdom as "earthly, unspiritual, demonic" when scripture teaches (Is 11:2) that wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit. 

  • Aquinas ST 2-2.45.1 ad 1: A thing is good and perfect in two senses: 1) It is truly good (vere bonum) and simply perfect (simpliciter perfectum). This is wisdom properly called—a truly good gift of God's grace. 2) It is good by analogy (secundum quandam similitudinem). Since every agent acts for an end (finis), so too does a morally bad person. When a person such as a thief attains his goal, by analogy he is called a "good" or "perfect" thief (citing Aristotle Metaph. 5). Such a person therefore has a type of wisdom, since wisdom includes knowledge of the final end. Therefore if a person's final goal is earthly things, his wisdom is earthly, if a person chooses the goods of the body as his final goal, his wisdom is sensual (animalis), if his final goal is some [earthly] excellence, "it is called 'devilish wisdom' because it imitates the devil's pride"(English Dominicans 1947, 3:1374). 
  • Aquinas ST 2-2.45.1 ad 2 distinguishes between the wisdom that is a gift of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom that is an acquired intellectual virtue (virtus intellectualis acquisita; English Dominicans 1947, 3:1374). Cf. Christian Tradition 1:5b.


3:11–4:6 Use in Lectionary BL : Wednesday, 32nd Week after Pentecost. 



2:13b,3:17 mercy Loving-kindness and Almsgiving

Translation of Hebrew ḥesed

The Greek eleos regularly translates the Hebrew ḥesed, a word referring to God's loving-kindness for his people:

  • Ex 20:6, the Lord will show "love (ḥsd) down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments."

Later Association with Almsgiving

13a wise and knowing Semantic Distinction between the Adjectives?

Sophia and Epistêmê in the Greek Philosophical Tradition

The Greek philosophical traditions closely identifies wisdom (sophia) and understanding, learned knowledge (cf. V), or science (epistêmê):

  • The Stoics (see Aetius 1. Pref. 2) defined wisdom as the "scientific knowledge (epistêmê) of the divine and the human" (Long and Sedley 1987, 158; →SVF 2.35).
  • Aristotle Eth. Nic. 1141a "it is clear that Wisdom must be the most perfect of the modes of knowledge" (epistêma; Rackham 1934, 342-43).

Similarly, there appears to be little semantic distinction between the terms wise (sophos) and "knowing" (epistêmôn) for James. The author is likely more motivated by stylistic concerns: his teaching on wisdom (Jas 3:13-18) features many parallel constructions (Literary Devices 3:13-18; Biblical Intertextuality 3:13a).

17c reasonable Semantics The adjective epieikês comes from the noun eikos, "what is reasonable" or "seemly". The adjective has the sense of being fair but also not insisting on one's own rights, but being gentle and considerate of others (1Tm 3:3; 1Pt 2:18). The cognate noun epieikeia names the corresponding virtue of epikeia, reasonableness, according to which the strict application of laws must be measured by the resulting good. See below Ancient Texts 3:17c and Biblical Intertextuality 3:17c.

17c Persuadable Intellectual Attitude The adjective eupeithês is a hapax legomenon. It denotes a person who is open to persuasion, especially one willing to listen to reason. It is composed by the adverb eu, "well" or "easily" + the verb peithomai, "be obedient", "be persuaded".

  • P. Oxy. 2.268: It is used of a woman and her daughter who agree to accept a certain sum of money instead of a dowry in an inheritance settlement.
  • Epictetus Diatr. 3.12.13 speaks of a person "obedient to reason" (eupeithês tôᵢ logôᵢ; Oldfather 1928, 85).
  • Plutarch Adol. poet. Aud.. 8 [Mor. 26E] relates how Achilles checked his anger "by making it obedient to his reason" (eupeithê tôᵢ logismôᵢ; Babbit 1927, 138).
  • Marcus Aurelius Med. 6.1 attributes this characteristic to "universal substance" (ousia holôn): it is "docile and ductile" (eupeithês kai eutrepês; Haines 1916, 130-31).

A closely related concept is James' admonition (Jas 1:19) to be "swift to hear".


13b in the gentleness of wisdom What Does This Phrase Modify? Interpreters differ on what the prepositional phrase "gentleness of wisdom" modifies:

  • it may modify the verb "show": let a person show his works in a gentle or humble manner;
  • it may modify the noun "his works." Here one must supply  a verb: e.g., his works [done] in a gentle manner.

Given the position of this phrase at the end of the sentence, it was most likely intended to modify "his works."

Literary Devices

17de full of mercy …not judging: James Reiterates the Theme of Mercy James' characterization of the "wisdom from above" as "full of mercy" and non-judgmental reiterates a key theme in James: the precedence of mercy over judgment. This theme is expressed explicity in Jas 2:13: "mercy triumphs over judgment," but the point is also implicitly made in James' warnings against judging others (Jas 4:11; cf. Jas 2:4). Here James develops a central teaching of Jesus.

See also Biblical Intertextuality 2:13b and →James: Judging .


Ancient Texts

1:21b,3:13b gentleness Virtue opposite to Anger; Trait of Socrates

  • Aristotle Rhetoric 2.3 [1380a] "becoming angry is the opposite of becoming mild, and anger (orgê) of mildness (praotêtis)…Let us then define making mild as the quieting and appeasing of anger" (Freese 1926, 184–85).
  • Aristotle Nic. Eth. 4.5.1 [1125B] "Gentleness (praotês) is the observance of the mean (mesotês) in relation to anger" (orgê; Rackham 1934, 230–31).
  • Plutarch Cohib. Ira portrays the man who acts with gentleness (using praus and cognates) as the opposite of the man who gives way to uncontrolled anger (e.g., 453c, 458e, 459c, 461a, 462a, 462d, 464d; Literary Devices 1:21b).
  • Plato Phaed. 116C: Socrates is called the "noblest, gentlest (praᵢotaton), and best" of men faced with death (Emlyn-Jones 1914, 516–17); cf. Biblical Intertextuality 1:21b,3:13b.

13a wise Clever and/or Virtuous

Skilled or Clever

At one level, the wise (sophos) person was one skilled in certain crafts or trades (e.g., Herodotus Hist. 3.85: "a skilled groom" (2:113); Pindar Ol. 1.9; Pyth. 3.113: skilled poets). Thus the word can have the sense of "clever," skilled in practical matters, but not necessarily ethically good. Thus Plato Resp. 7 [519A] refers to those show are clever (sophos), but use their cleverness to do evil things (kaka; cf. Jas 3:15: demonic wisdom; Jones 2013, 2:120–123).

Divine Wisdom

Biblical Intertextuality

15b demonic “Wisdom” of the Demons

The World is Dominated by Demonic Powers

By identifying the wisdom of this world, apart from God, as demonic, James shares the NT view that the devil is the ruler of this world (see Mt 4:8–9; Jn 12:31; 2Cor 4:4). 

Demonic Teachings

The Pauline tradition similarly holds that those doctrines which lead people away from the faith are inspired by demons (1Tm 4:1): “some will turn away from the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and demonic (daimonios) instructions.” 

17b pure Keeping Oneself from Immorality NT passages use the word (Greek: hagnos) reflect the sense of keeping oneself away from immorality:



3:13–4:3,4:7–8a Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 20, Year B.

13–18 Use in Lectionary RML : Monday, Week 7, Year 2.

3:16–4:3 Use in Lectionary RML : 25th Sunday in Year B.

Christian Tradition

13–18 Divisio textus

13b let him show Comments on Faith and Works

  • 1 Clem. 38.2 closely parallels the thought of James: “Let the one who is wise (sophos) show forth (endeiknusthô) wisdom not through words but through good deeds” (erga agatha; Ehrman 2003, 1:103).
  • Palamas Hom. 8.4 connects this verse with the discussion in Jas 2:18 on demonstrating one's faith through actions (Veniamin 2009, 55); cf. Palamas Hom. 18.14 and Palamas Hom. 59.8.

14a jealousy Comments on Jealousy

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. (Hurst 1985, 44) and Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc. (97) note that there are two kinds of jealousy or zeal, one a virtue, one a vice; cf. also Symeon the New Theologian Cat. 5.775-80. Their biblical examples of zeal include: 1Kgs 19:10: "I have been greatly zealous for the Lord God of hosts" ; and 2Cor 11:2: "For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God."
  • On the other hand, zeal as a vice is found, e.g., in Gal 5:20.
  • Aquinas ST 2-2.36.2 follows Aristotle's distinction between jealousy (G: zêlos; L: zelos) and envy (G: phthonos; L: invidia). There is a good type of zeal; Thomas quotes Ps 69:9 (G-68:10) as an example: "The zeal of your house has consumed me" (cf. Ancient Texts 3:14a).
  • Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 8.B.2, in light of Jesus' teaching in Mt 5:22, sees this passage as a violation of the fifth commandment, "You shall not kill." James here explicates Jesus' teaching that an evil inner disposition leads to external sins such as murder (Preus 2008, 2:739).
  • WLC Q 148: The Reformed tradition quotes this passage as an example of the violation of the ninth commandment, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife..."

15b earthly Interpretations of Earthly Wisdom The Shepherd of Hermas closely parallels James' thought:

  • Herm. Mand. 9.11 connects the term "earthly" (epigeios) with the term dipsuchia (double-mindedness; see , 4:8) and connects both with the devil: “Doublemindedness is an earthly spirit from the devil” (Ehrman 2003, 2:277).
  • Herm. Mand. 11.1-19 uses the same terms to describe the spirit of a false prophet.
  • Gloss. Ord. (V) the interlinear gloss reads: "desire for earthly glory" (terrenae gloriae cupida; col. 1290); cf. Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. (Hurst 1985, 45).

15b demonic Interpretations of "Demonic"

Wisdom Instigated by the Devil

  • Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc.: the interlinear gloss reads: "It knows and does only that, which the devil by duplicity infused into human nature, that is, that which turns itself towards the savage and harmful" (vesana et noxia; 1289-90); cf. Bede Ep. cath. (Hurst 1985, 45).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. "It is a devilish wisdom because it does not come from the inspiration of the divine Spirit but from the impulse of demons (instinctu daemonum), whose promptings are designed to alienate us from evangelical sincerity" (Bateman 1993, 159; Bateman 1997, 146).
  • Lapide Comm. connects this term with pride (superbia), which seeks to excel and be honored over others, and devises deceit and cunning tricks to attain that goal. The devil is the author and leader of such tricks (20:162). Cf. Estius Comm. ep. cath.: ambition and pride (superbia) are particularly diabolical vices (4307).

A Worldly Spirit

  • Erasmus Annot. Ep. Iac. ad loc. defines the term differently, "it is not 'diabolic,' but 'daemonic,' daimoniôdês; this is not from the spirit of Christ, but from the spirit of this world" (van Poll-van de Lisdonk 2014, 410).

17 wisdom from above Characteristics of God’s Wisdom

General Comments

Bede Ep. cath.: This list of wisdom's characteristics illustrates the "gentleness of wisdom" (Jas 3:13b ; Hurst 1985, 46; Hurst 1983, 210).

Individual Characteristics of the Wisdom from Above

First of all Pure
  • Gloss. Ord. (V) "Unless purity (pudicitia) is first established in the mind, no completion (nulla perfectio) follows in action" (1289).
  • Lapide Comm.: purity refers to both purity of life, including sexual purity (he cites St. Agnes as an example), and purity of doctrine. He cites numerous examples of what he considers an impure mixture of heavenly and earthly doctrines in the teachings of pagans, Muslims, and heretics, including their teaching that celibacy and continence are impossible for humans (20:164).
  • Gregory the Great Past. 3.22 specifically addresses church members who have spiritual gifts or virtues (e.g., self-discipline, knowledge) but who look down on other church members who lack those gifts. The wisdom from above warns them that these gifts will be of no benefit if they fail to live in harmony with fellow Christians (citing Mt 5:23-24 in support (NPNF2 12:47; Rommel and Morel 1992, 404).
  • Gregory the Great Past. 3.22 comment, [wisdom from above is] "peaceable, because it in no wise through elation disjoins itself from the society of neighbors" (proximorum societate) appears also in Bede Ep. cath. (Hurst 1983, 210) and Gloss. Ord.
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc.:  [the wise teacher] "shrinks from every desire for contention" (Bateman 1993, 159; Bateman 1997, 210).
  • Lapide Comm. "Wisdom is humble: humility, moreover, is the mother of peace. The humble are together in peace, while among the proud there are always quarrels" (20:166).
  • →WLC Q. 135: The Reformed tradition cites this passage in its conclusion that being "peaceable" is one of the duties required by the commandment, "Do not kill."
Considerate of Others (L = modesta)
  • Erasmus Annot. Ep. Iac. ad loc. suggests equitable (aequa) or humane (humana) as better renderings of the Greek epieikês (van Poll-van de Lisdonk 2014, 412). He is followed in this by Calvin and Estius.
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. "he calls it kind (aequa) and humane (humana), that we know that it is far away from that immoderate austerity that tolerates nothing in our brethren" (Owen, 326; Reuss and Erichson, 413). Calvin translates the Greek as aequa instead of V's modesta.
  • Estius Comm. ep. cath. provides synonyms: equitable (aequa), humane (humana), moderate (moderata) (4308).
  • Lapide Comm. "Humility is the mother of modestia, its daughter is modesty, its sister is patience...modestia in debate and disputation is necessary to bridle the impudence and audacity of youth" (20:166).
Willing to Listen
  • As an example of a wisdom that is considerate of others, willing to listen, and "agreeing with the good" (Textual Criticism 3:17c), Bede Ep. cath. cites the example of Peter, who, "though agitated, bowed to Paul's rebuke" (alluding to Gal 2:11-14 and perhaps to Acts 15:1-30) (Hurst 1985, 46; Hurst 1983, 210).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. also comments that this wisdom applies to those teachers who yield "ungrudgingly to the one who has something better to teach" (Bateman 1993, 159; Bateman 1997, 146).
  • Lapide Comm.: To illustrate this virute, Lapide quotes Augustine's comment: "I love to learn more than to teach" and compares the characteristic "teachable" (L = docibilis; G = didaktikon) (20:167).
Full of Mercy and Good Fruits
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. connects "full of mercy" with the internal condition of the Christian's soul (Gloss. Ord. ad loc. glosses the phrase with in anima), and "good fruits" with the outward manifestation of that inner mercy in works of devotion (pietatis;Hurst 1985, 46; Hurst 1983, 210).
  • The interlinear gloss to "good fruits" in the Gloss. Ord. (V) "works of mercy (opera misericordiae), fastings, vigils, and prayers (cols. 1289-90).
  • For Erasmus Iac. Par. the good fruits include "doing good to all, converting the ungodly to godliness, calling back those who stray, teaching the untaught (indoctos docens), lifting up the fallen, encouraging the faint-hearted, consoling the afflicted" (afflictos consolans; Bateman 1993, 159; Bateman 1997, 146).


  • Ps.-Andreas Catena ad Jas 3:17 describes the wisdom from above, "not judging (mê diakrinousa) observances of food and different baptisms (diaphorôn baptismatôn). Paul discusses this accurately in the letter to the Colossians" (an apparent reference to Col 2:16; Cramer 1844, 8:24).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. "condemns no one, being more eager to heal than to damn" (sanandi quam damnandi studiosior;Bateman 1993, 159; Bateman 1997, 146). 
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. defines this term as a hypocritical "over-scrupulous inquiry"  (scrupulosa inquisitio) by some community members into the faults of others in the community (Owen 1849, 327; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 413).

Without Hypocrisy

  • Luther En. Ps. ad Jas 2:12 quotes this phrase from Jas 3:17 in support of his teaching that true religion is not a matter of outward actions, but of a change of heart (LW 12:87; WA 40/2:304). 

17a wisdom from above General Interpretations

Wisdom is a Gift of Grace

  • Aquinas ST 2-2.45.1 ad. 2 interprets the phrase "descending from above" to mean that wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit (English Dominicans 1947, 3:1374). Thus every baptized person possesses this supernatural  wisdom (Aquinas ST 2-2.45.5).
  • Augustine of Hippo Nat. Grat. 16 [17] too argues that the wisdom from above may only be possessed through God's grace: no human can choose it. James teaches that humans must pray to God for this wisdom (Jas 1:5-6), thus proving that it cannot be attained through the free will alone; he also quotes Jas 3:2 and Jas 3:8 to show that all humans sin and cannot overcome this sins without God's help.

Not only Intellect but Will

  • Estius Comm. ep. cath.: Wisdom "forms not only the intellect, but also affects the will (voluntatis), bringing along with it all the virtues as companions" (4308).

Gift of the Holy Spirit

  • Moghila Orth. Conf. 73: In this influential statement of Orthodox belief, Mogila lists wisdom as the first gift of the Holy Spirit, followed by a quotation of this passage (CCFCT 1:593; Karmirês 1986, 2:626).

Frederick Douglass: Wisdom from above is True Christianity

The former slave Frederick Douglass often quoted Jas 3:17 in his anti-slavery speeches. He used the phrase to describe what he insisted was the true Christian and biblical message of purity and equality, in contrast to perversion of Christianity preached by so-called Christians who used the Bible to defend slavery.

  • Douglass Slavery "I love the religion of our blessed Saviour. I love that religion that comes from above, in the wisdom of God, which is first pure...[quotes the rest of Jas 3:17]...I love that religion that makes it the duty of its disciples to visit the fatherless and widow in their affliction (Jas 1:27)...It is because I love this religion that I hate the slave-holding, the woman-whipping, the mind-darkening, the soul-destroying religion that exists in the southern states of America....It is because I regard the one as good, and pure, and holy, that I cannot but regard the others as bad, corrupt, and wicked. Loving the one, I must hate the other" (Blassingame 1979, 282-83).
  • Douglass Brown defends John Brown's use of violence against the slave-holders. Admitting that God was a God of peace, Douglass insisted that there could be no true peace where there was oppression and injustice. Alluding to Jas 3:17bc,  Douglass declares, "The Divine arrangement was this: be first 'pure and then peaceable'" (Blassingame 1979, 317; cf. Aymer 2007, 50).
  • Douglass Bible explicates James' description of the wisdom from above as "without hypocrisy":  "It knows no one by the color of his skin. It confers no privilege upon one class, which it does not confer upon another. The fundamental principle running through and underlying the whole is this—'Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do you even so unto them' (Mt 7:12). If you claim liberty to yourself, grant it to your neighbor. If you, yourself, were a slave, and would desire the aid of your fellow man to rescue you from the clutch of the enslaver, you surely are bound by that very desire to labor for the freedom of those whom you know to be in bonds" (Blassingame 1979, 129).

Newman: the Countercultural Values of the Beatitudes

  • Newman "Yoke" cites this text in a sermon showing how the traits of the wisdom from above parallel the characteristics listed in the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-11). Christ calls his followers to be "gentle instead of harsh, meek instead of violent, conceding instead of arrogant, lowly instead of proud, pure-hearted instead of sensual, sensitive of sin instead of carnal" (Newman Paroch. Serm., 7:110). This goes against all the values of the world; in Paul's words, it calls one to crucify one's natural desires and one's very self. The life in Christ is ultimately one of joy, but first one must accept the yoke of meekness.

17c peaceful Thomas on the Relationship between Wisdom and Peace

How Divine Wisdom Leads to Peace

  • Aquinas ST 2-2.45.6 defines peace as the tranquility of order (tranquillitas ordinis), citing Augustine of Hippo Civ. 19.13. He states further (ad 1) "it belongs to wisdom to make peace by setting things in order"  (facere pacem est sapientiae ordinantis), citing Aristotle Metaph. 1.2 (English Dominicans 1947, 3:1377).
  • Aquinas ST 2-2.45.6 ad. 3 then explains how each of James' characteristics of the wisdom from above (Jas 3:17) help to establish order and thus peace: 1) wisdom is pure (L: pudica) because it avoids the corruption of sin; 2) wisdom is peaceful (L= pacifica), since the ultimate effect (finalis effectus) of wisdom is peace.
Attaining Peace within Oneself

Thomas then arranges the following characteristics into two categories:

  • Wisdom is considerate of others (L: modesta): the wise man is moderate in all things.
  • Wisdom is willing to listen: (L: suadibilis): the wise man is open to guidance from the advice of others in areas in which he is lacking.
Attaining Peace with Others
  • Wisdom is "consenting to the good" (L: bonis consentiens): to be at peace, a person cannot be opposed to the good of others (see also Textual Criticism 3:17c).
  • "Full of mercy and good fruit": one should be sympathetic and helpful towards his neighbor's faults.
  • "Judging without deception" (L: iudicans sine simulatione): one should strive, with love rather than with a disguised hatred, to correct the sins of others (Textual Criticism 3:17e).

18 fruit of righteousness Fruit is Eternal Life

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. "For the fruit of righteousness (fructus enim iustitiae) is eternal life which is a reward for righteous works" (operibus iustis retribuitur; Hurst 1985, 47; Hurst 1983, 210); cf. Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. (col. 1290).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc.: this fruit "confers innocence in this life and immortality hereafter" (Bateman 1993, 159; Bateman 1997, 146).

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.


Biblical Intertextuality

1:21b,3:13b gentleness Moses, Sirach, Jesus, Christians


Moses' Extraordinary Humility

The wise lawgiver Moses is known as having been most gentle, meek, and humble (Vocabulary 3:13b): 

  • Nm 12:3: "Now the man Moses was very gentle (Greek: praus; Hebrew: ‘nw "humble"), more than anyone else on earth."
  • Sir 45:4: "Because of his [Moses'] trustworthiness and gentleness (prautês) God selected him from all flesh."

Christians maintained this tradition of Moses' exceeding humility (e.g., Jerome of Stridon Ep. 82.3).

A Major Theme in Sirach

  • Sir 1:34–35 (G-1:27): "For the fear of the Lord is wisdom and discipline; faithfulness and gentleness (prautês) are his delight."
  • Sir 3:19 (G-3:17): "My son, conduct your affairs with gentleness (en prautêti), and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts"
  • Sir 4:8: "Give a hearing to the poor, and return their greeting with gentleness (en prautêti)
  • Sir 10:31 (G-10:28): "My son, with humility (en prautêti) have self-esteem; and give yourself the esteem you deserve."


Gentleness in Jesus' Teachings
  • Jesus says of himself, "I am gentle (praus) and humble (tapeinos) of heart" (Mt 11:29). Cf. Mt 21:5 and Paul's application to Jesus in 2Cor 10:1.
  • Mt 5:5: "Blessed are the meek."
Doing Deeds with Gentleness
  • 1Cor 4:21: "Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a gentle spirit (prautês)?"
  • Gal 6:1: "correct that one [i.e., a fellow Christian] in a gentle spirit" cf. 2Tm 2:25.
  • 1Pt 3:15–16: an admonition to explain Christian beliefs with gentleness.
A Christian Virtue

Prautês and its cognates are often linked with tapeinos ("humble") and its cognates: Is 26:6; Mt 11:29; Eph 4:2; Col 3:12; cf. Ancient Texts 1:21b,3:13b.

Suggestions for Reading

13–18 True Wisdom Results in Peace James puts and end to his bravura piece on language with a rhetorical question refocusing his readers on his main topics: works (Literary Devices Jas 3:13b). The heart of this section is James' antithesis between the "wisdom from above" and a "wisdom from below."


  • Jas 3:13: Thesis. The true wise man demonstrates his wisdom by good actions performed with gentleness.
  • Jas 3:14-15: Counter example. Those motivated by jealousy and contentiousness show that their boastful claims to be wise are false. Rather, they follow a distorted "wisdom from below" that focuses only on earthly values. Living out such values results in conflict in the church community.
  • Jas 3:17: Characteristics of true wisdom specified. True wisdom is peaceable, gentle, and results in good actions ("fruits"), in contrast to the divisive outcomes of earthly wisdom.
  • Jas 3:18: Conclusion. A peaceful community, acting with righteousness, is the result of following true wisdom.
Thematic Organization: Antithesis between Above and Below, Peace and Division. 

Characteristically, James insists that wisdom must be demonstrated in practical action in order to be shown as genuine (Literary Devices 3:13b). A community led by the "widom from below" is characterized by jealousy, rivalry, and conflicts; a community led by the "wisdom from above" is characterized by peaceful, mutually respectful relationships between community members.

In his ethical exhortation draws on teachings paralleled in Greco-Roman, ancient Jewish, the teachings of Jesus, and early Christian sources. James most likely draws on all of these sources in expressing his own unique teaching.


Much of the interpretive tradition understands this section as a continuation of James' admonition to teachers in Jas 3:1-12 (cf. especially Jas 3:1). See also Christian Tradition 3:13-18.


Christian Tradition

18 righteousness Righteousness and Peace Lapide Comm. ad loc. defines righteousness (L = justitia) as practical wisdom, the collection of all virtues (complexio omnium virtutum; 20:169).